The most pertinent comment about the Carolina Hurricanes was recently made by veteran forward Justin Williams.
“The fact of the matter is you have to let your play speak for itself,” Williams said. “Words are just words.”
The Canes can talk about changing the makeup of the team, of the coaching staff. They can talk of establishing a different “culture” and being a tougher team to play against. They can talk of ending a streak of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for nine straight years, the longest in the league.
Words are just words.
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All that matters is what happens on Oct. 4, when the puck drops against the New York Islanders and a new season begins. No one knows that more than Rod Brind’Amour, who once joked that he’d rather be called “Rod” than “Coach” while an assistant coach and now has a new title, head coach Rod Brind’Amour, and the responsibility that comes with it.
It all begins Thursday, when the first preseason training-camp practices are held at PNC Arena. Because of the threat of Hurricane Florence, the NHL has allowed the Canes to begin on-ice practices a day earlier than scheduled.
Just before practice began, it was announced Williams would be the team captain this season.
“At the end of the day we have to win,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s easy to talk about, right? You’ve got to go and do it.”
Here are five pressing questions entering training camp:
1) How will Brind’Amour run practices?
One word quickly comes to mind: competitive. Brind’Amour was ultra competitive as a player and should be as a head coach, demanding intensity and attention to detail in practices.
“Everyone knows the type of work ethic he has and the type of guy he is,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “The whole summer he’s probably been looking at every detail and planning out every little situation. We know we’re going to be an extremely prepared team.”
Former coach Bill Peters also was detail-oriented and well-organized in his practices. But the vibe should be different with Brind’Amour in charge.
2) Is there a No. 1 goalie?
Some deja vu, yes? But with a new mix. A year ago, the goaltending tandem was Scott Darling and Cam Ward, with Darling newly signed and set to be the No. 1 guy.
That didn’t work out. Now, it’s Darling and Petr Mrazek, with a slimmer, seemingly more relaxed Darling out to prove he can get the job done in is second season with the Canes and be their No. 1 guy.
Asked if he was comfortable with the goaltending situation, Brind’Amour said, “I have to be. What I like is we have competition there. We have two guys trying to jumpstart their careers and I think they’re motivated for that.”
3) What about the D pairs?
This could be Brind’Amour’s best “problem” because there are several options with the defensemen.
One would be to pair the two new additions, Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan. and keep Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce together. Justin Faulk and van Riemsdyk could be paired, although both are right-handed shots and one would have to play their off-side. Haydn Fleury would be the seventh defenseman.
“I don’t know who I’m going to play with but it doesn’t really matter because we’ve got so many good guys,” Hamilton said.
Brind’Amour said Pesce missed some conditioning work this summer dealing with an upper-body issue, but Pesce was at the first camp practice Thursday and at full speed.
4) Where do Necas, Svechnikov best fit?
Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov have been roommates since coming to Raleigh and the hockey question is will Brind’Amour keep the rookie forwards on the same line in training camp?
Brind’Amour has indicated that might not happen. Better to have each on a line with older, more experienced forwards.
In the first on-ice practice Thursday, Svechnikov often was used with Sebastian Aho at center and Michael Ferland on the opposite wing. Necas centered Teuvo Teravainen and Brock McGinn in the split-squad practice.
But that’s what training camp is for -- to experiment, look at different combinations. Both are highly skilled players who could bring a dimension of speed (Necas) and power (Svechnikov) to their line. Or another line.
5) Who grabs the open forward spots?
If Necas and Svechnikov have roster spots all but secured, which should be the case, it will leave several forwards competing for a couple of openings, one created by the Jeff Skinner trade to Buffalo.
There’s now the matter of Victor Rask, who is out indefinitely after cutting his hand in a kitchen accident. Rask required surgery.
Phil Di Giuseppe, Valentin Zykov, Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele, Julien Gauthier, Aleksi Saarela, Janne Kuokannen ... it’s an expanded list and there are others on it.
Di Giuseppe and Zykov have one-way contracts and Di Giuseppe played 49 games for the Canes last season, but Brind’Amour is interested in seeing how it all shakes out, in practices and in the six preseason exhibition games.
“For me the No. 1 goal is to figure out, we’ve got some young players, can they play?” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve got to give them every opportunity to see what they can do.
“We know the guys who can play and know who’s going to be on the team. But we have some spots we’re not sure about and want to make sure we don’t have any doubt going into the season. That’s the focal point of training camp for me.”